The premise of “crime-free housing” seems straightforward: require rental tenants to remain crime free or face eviction, giving municipal and county law enforcement agencies more control over criminal activity happening on a specific property, block and neighborhood.
Crime-free housing policies aren’t a new advocacy issue. There are several municipalities in Illinois, including some in the Metro East area that I cover as an Illinois REALTORS® local governmental affairs director, where crime-free ordinances have been in place for several years.
This year, interest in crime-free ordinances has re-emerged in communities located just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. And while REALTORS® can stand behind community efforts to address public safety, they should be wary of policies which fail to provide transparency, communication and due process for the property owners involved.
Alton is one Metro East community which has implemented a crime-free ordinance through the addition of a lease addenda for rental leases executed in the city. Alton’s crime-free addenda require landlords to have a listing of all tenants on the premises of the residence. The tenants agree to certain provisions that govern their behavior and that of their guests, as well. The city sees its use of landlord licensing and crime-free housing as a tool to track criminal activity and reduce crime rates.
The Alton ordinance shows the issues that can arise with these provisions.
For instance, eviction processes are being demanded by the city for police calls to a property. Crime-free ordinances do not even require a criminal conviction for the tenants to be kicked out of a residence.
Owners are put in a tough spot when the ordinance requires eviction but the landlord is unable to get backing from the police department. By law, self-help evictions are prohibited.
With the large case load in Madison County courts, it could take landlords nearly two months before they can obtain a court date, during which time most tenants facing eviction will not pay rent or maintain the residence.
Finally, if the landlord does win an eviction order, that paperwork will be delivered by the Madison County Sheriff’s Office. The city of Alton is abdicating all responsibility for its crime-free housing program and placing it on the backs of the landowners and another policing agency.
For 103 years, Illinois REALTORS® has defended property rights and we hope crime-free efforts are accomplished with minimal intrusion into the lives of landlords and tenants.
Illinois REALTORS® had supported House Bill 2206 from state Rep. Sam Yingling, D- Grayslake, that would have required municipalities such as Alton to seek warrants for crime-free inspections and require the permission of the tenant/landlord to enter a residence. The bill stalled in the spring session.
Several other communities understand the role private property rights play in crafting a crime-free ordinance.
In Belleville, the city’s Crime-free Committee meets every six months with various stakeholders to evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of its program. As a matter of policy, Belleville could be a leader in the crime-free housing world.
In nearby Swansea, a Metro East village that implemented a voluntary crime-free program at the end of 2018, the underlying policy focused on incentives which lowered occupancy permit fees.
Due process is always a key motivating factor in potential REALTOR® opposition to crime-free housing provisions. If a crime is committed even near an Alton rental residence, a landlord could be forced to remove all the tenants of a home or apartment.
At one city council meeting in 2018, an Alton city attorney admitted that a grandmother, mother and granddaughter could be kicked out of a residence because of the actions of a mother’s boyfriend, who may or may not even have been at the address where the crime purportedly happened.
Experience with crime-free ordinances shows one thing clearly: The best solutions to making communities safer come through consistent input from property owners. After all, REALTORS® and community residents have a clear stake in making communities more livable.